When Le’Veon Bell got the franchise tag again, we assumed we were in for the same dance from 2017.
Bell sat out until just before the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ regular season started, played in the opener and had a great season. We knew it was unlikely he’d come to training camp this season, but there was no indication he’d miss regular-season games.
However, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter floated the idea. According to Ross Tucker, on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Schefter said he thought it was “possible” Bell could sit out half of this season. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported that the Steelers and Bell couldn’t come to an agreement on a new deal before Monday’s deadline, which made a long holdout a possibility. Bell’s agent told Schefter on Monday afternoon what we could have already guessed, that this looks like Bell’s last season with the Steelers even though general manager Kevin Colbert held out hope for a long-term deal after this season is done.
Why would Bell hold out?
It’s unclear if Schefter was speculating or repeating something he’d heard from sources, but either way it seems the possibility is on the table.
Bell has not been happy with the franchise tag. The Steelers rode him hard the past couple seasons, probably knowing they’d be done with him in 2019. Last season Bell led the NFL with 321 carries and had 85 catches too. Most backs who reach 400 touches in a season start to see their production dip shortly after.
Bell presumably isn’t thrilled with the prospect of logging about 25 touches a game again without a long-term deal. As Schefter pointed out on SiriusXM NFL Radio, his goal is to hit 2019 free agency healthy. Still, Bell’s franchise tag is worth $14.5 million and it’s hard to believe he’d give up those game checks for a holdout this season.
Given how important he is to the Steelers, it’s a decision the NFL world will be watching closely. For what it’s worth, Bell mentioned having a great 2018 with no indication he was considering a holdout in a tweet right after Monday’s deadline passed.
With no long-term deal, Bell’s next move is unknown
Monday afternoon was the deadline to reach a long-term deal with players on the franchise tag. Once the deadline passed, those players must play on the franchise tag in 2018.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Bell was offered a five-year deal valued at $70 million, with more than $30 million guaranteed.
It had reported for a while that Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence wouldn’t get long-term deals. It has been a challenge for the Steelers to get something done with Bell, since he wants a contract that’s beyond what any NFL running back currently makes. He has earned that. He’s perhaps the best back in the NFL over the past few years. But the Steelers seem wary of giving a massive deal to Bell, presumably since running backs generally have short careers. Bell probably understands that too, which is why a holdout can’t be ruled out.
Now that we know Bell will be playing on the franchise tag this season, we’ll all wait to see what Bell’s next move is.
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